By Dr. Hugh Calkins

Here at Johns Hopkins, we are blending engineering and cardiology to create more personalized approaches to diagnose and treat heart rhythm disorders. Leveraging innovations in cardiac imaging, computer simulations and data science could help us manage these disorders, which can lead to elevated risks of blood clots, stroke, dementia and death.

Natalia Trayanova, Ph.D., the Murray B. Sachs Professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at the Johns Hopkins University Schools of Engineering and Medicine, and I are leading this effort, called the Alliance for Cardiovascular Diagnostic and Treatment Innovation. (You can read the full Johns Hopkins Medicine news release here.)

For more than five years, Johns Hopkins engineers and clinicians have been working together to determine how to solve modern medical problems with computational and data-driven approaches. As part of this collaboration, Dr. Trayanova pioneered the use of creating personalized 3D virtual replicas of the heart and its electrical function based on individual patients with certain heart conditions.

These simulations help physicians use radiofrequency waves more precisely so we can destroy heart tissue that we believe generates and sustains erratic electrical waves that disrupt a normal heartbeat. Dr. Trayanova’s lab also is studying more precise ways to predict who is at risk for sudden death or stroke from atrial or ventricular fibrillation, types of irregular heartbeats.

Over the next five years, I will work with other cardiologists at The Johns Hopkins Hospital to lead clinical trials of the engineering strategies that Dr. Trayanova and her colleagues have developed.

This work has the potential to save millions of lives. Literally.

Some 5 million people in the United States experience atrial fibrillation (AFib), and tens of thousands more have had ventricular arrhythmias.

I’ve also had the opportunity to see the devastating effects heart rhythm disorders have on patients and families at Johns Hopkins Aramco Healthcare (JHAH), our joint venture in Saudi Arabia. AFib is the most common type of irregular heartbeat in the Kingdom. I worked with JHAH’s head of cardiology and its cardiac catheterization lab staff as they performed six complex procedures to treat arrhythmic conditions. This was the first time AFib ablations were offered and performed on JHAH patients. I was honored to be a part of this important cardiology milestone.

At Johns Hopkins, interdisciplinary experts are diligently researching, developing and sharing new strategies that will profoundly improve how we diagnose and treat a wide range of cardiac arrhythmias here and around the world.

Dr. Hugh Calkins is the Nicholas J. Fortuin M.D. Professor of Cardiology and director of the Electrophysiology Laboratory and Arrhythmia Service at The Johns Hopkins Hospital. He is an internationally recognized expert on catheter ablation, atrial fibrillation, syncope, arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia and arrhythmia management. Dr. Calkins has published more than 500 articles and book chapters on a variety of cardiac arrhythmias. His research has focused on catheter ablation, atrial fibrillation, syncop and arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia. Dr. Calkins has also written extensively on most aspects of heart rhythm disorders and their treatment.

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